A: In opposing pornography, feminists have been accused of being essentially right-wing, or giving aid and comfort to the political Right, or being in an alliance with the Right. These charges were made long before the existence of the Ordinance. They were made as soon as feminists began to speak out about the woman hating in pornography and as soon as feminists began to organize pickets and demonstrations to protest the production and distribution of pornography. In 1970, feminists committed civil disobedience by sitting in at the offices of Grove Press to protest the publication of pornography there and the way Grove treated its women employees. The super-radical-leftist publisher/owner of Grove Press not only had the feminists arrested by the then very brutal New York City Police Department for criminal trespass on his private property-he also accused them of working for the C.I.A. You can't get a bigger charge of collusion than that one; who cares that the man who made it was defending his profits, his pornography, his mistreatment of women workers (a/k/a "workers")? Certainly, the Left saw him as a radical, not as a capitalist. The Left continues to see pornographers as radicals, not as capitalists. With the emergence of Jerry Falwell on the national scene, feminists who opposed pornography were likened to Mr. Falwell. Feminist leaders were characterized as demagogues and puritanical opportunists in ongoing campaigns of character assassination. Mr. Falwell came to represent all that the Left detested in religion and politics and feminists who opposed pornography were robbed of their own political identities and convictions and caricatured as having his. Since Mr. Falwell had supported segregation in the 1960's, had supported the Viet Nam War, currently does support the regime in South Africa and the militarism of Cold War anticommunism, opposes abortion rights and gay rights, and since the feminist leaders of the antipornography movement hold opposite views on each and every issue, this was an extraordinary slander. But it was repeated as fact in mainstream newspaper articles and in the feminist press.
We don't believe that this is done to people on other issues. Take, for example, the often vituperative debate on the existence of the state of Israel. One of the women most active in calling feminists who oppose pornography right-wing has written eloquently in behalf of the continued existence of the state of Israel. Mr. Falwell also supports the continued existence of the state of Israel. We know that the reasons of this particular woman are different in kind and in quality from Mr. Falwell's reasons. Since Mr. Falwell's expressions of support for Israel sometimes have an anti-Semitic edge and always have a Cold War rationale, it would be slanderous to say the same position, broadly construed, means the same politics, or that her position does not exist independent of his. The New York Times, which repeatedly denounces feminists who oppose pornography and repeatedly links us with Mr. Falwell or his Moral Majority, also supports the existence of the state of Israel. We know their reasons are not Mr. Falwell's. We know their politics are not Mr. Falwell's. We do not liken Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel to Mr. Falwell because both support the state of Israel, or Natan Sharansky, or Jacobo Timmerman. The New Jewish Agenda, a leftist group, supports the existence of the state of Israel, but its politics are opposed to, not the same as, Mr. Falwell's.
Specious analogizing is ludicrous, no less on pornography than on Israel. It is fair to say that there are many issues that can be articulated broadly enough-pro or con-so that a strange spectrum of folks seem to be on the same side. Supporting Israel is one; opposing pornography is another. But this has only been done to those of us who oppose pornography from a feminist perspective of radical equality. We have had to try to survive in an environment saturated with this kind of intellectual lie and political slander. We never expected feminist media to fall for this propagandistic nonsense, but they did, repeating it over a period of years. We never expected the Left to descend to this gutter level of intellectual corruption but they did, apparently without a second thought and with no remorse. Ultimately the effect was to erase our political identities. Women, of course, are used to being erased from political dialogue and history but not by folks who apply the word feminist to themselves.
The double standard was also alive and well when feminists who opposed pornography were told to shut up to protect free speech. Again, from the very beginning, before feminists created or endorsed any legal strategies against pornography, we were told repeatedly that anything we said or did against pornography would endanger free speech. For instance, when we were protesting the film "Snuff" in New York City in February 1976, one civil-liberties stalwart wrote in his regular newspaper column that we should stop picketing the film because our picketing endangered free speech. His reasoning was that in response to the pickets a theater manager might decide not to show "Snuff." This was the danger our picketing created. Picketing, of course, is a quintessential exercise of free speech. The whole idea of free speech is that someone might change their mind and their behavior. At least, this is the whole idea of picketing. Picketing is not usually friendly and compliant and supportive speech. Usually it is speech in opposition to what is going on, and it is speech that wants results. This civil libertarian believed that the showing of "Snuff" was vital to free speech and our picketing was not. Over a period of years, in newspaper articles, on editorial pages, in debates, we were told, usually with polite condescension, sometimes in a holy rage, that we were endangering free speech by talking about pornography: that is, by articulating a political opposition to it. A New York Times reporter was told by a chief editor that The New York Times would no longer carry news stories about the feminist political opposition to pornography. This occurred in 1978, after the reporter had published a superb news story objectively describing a major conference on pornography at New York University Law School. The chief editor said that such news stories created a feeling against pornography that threatened the First Amendment. The New York Times itself published an editorial denouncing the feminists reported on in the news story, characterizing our positions as "shrill" and "hysterical." News stories disappeared from those pages for many years. When impossible to suppress, such stories have been carried, usually slanted against us. Feminist authors writing on pornography have been repeatedly told that such books would not be published because they endangered First Amendment rights. Magazine editors have rejected numerous articles by feminist authors opposing pornography on the same grounds: that to publish the articles would jeopardize the First Amendment. The same people who say the pornographers must be protected because everything must be published and protected are the first to say that feminist work opposing pornography must not be published in order to protect free speech.
The feminist version of this pernicious nonsense has been the insistence on having a propornography side represented whenever antipornography politics are expressed, in published or spoken forums. There are feminist right-to-life activists, but no one in the women's movement has been insisting that they get equal time, let alone that they speak wherever and whenever prochoice politics are expressed. These feminist right-to-life groups began on the radical Left, in fact, in the nonviolence movement. Now there are also more politically moderate feminists who are prolife and at the same time for the Equal Rights Amendment and the rest of the feminist agenda. Not only is their participation not required at feminist events; they are not allowed in the door. It is only on the issue of pornography that those who support the pornography industry in the name of what they call feminism must speak whenever those who oppose pornography speak. Since pornography is a distillation of woman hating, linked in women's experience to rape, battery, incest, and forced prostitution, it is impossible to understand how the moral and political imperative developed to have so-called feminists speak in behalf of pornography. This can only be understood as the feminist version of shut up.
The mainstream says: shut up to protect free speech. Feminists say shut up because if you speak we will have other women here calling themselves feminists to defend this exploitation of women. In this way, we will wipe out what you have said. We don't do this to anyone else who stands up for the rights of women, but we will do this to you because we want you to shut up. You make us feel bad. We can't stand up to the pornographers. They are too mean, too real, and too powerful. We want to celebrate women. We don't want to have to face how powerless we are in the face of organized, profit-making male cruelty. It has been hard enough for us to face rape, incest, and battery. So we are having these women in here who say they are feminists but enjoy calling themselves "girls," and they want us to have fun having sex now, and they say pornography is just part of liberated sex, and if they say so it must be true for them so you aren't even right when you say pornography hurts women because it doesn't hurt all women (it doesn't hurt these "girl"-women), and if we listen to them we don't have to listen to you, which means, shut up.
And that is the sad consequence of yet another double standard. Large numbers of feminists listened with serious and honorable attention to women who exposed rape, incest, and battery; but not as many feminists have listened with serious and honorable attention to women who have been exploited in pornography or raped or tortured or violated because of it.
Finally, feminist lawyers are responsible for yet another double standard, this one cynical in the extreme. Feminist lawyers especially seem not to want to do anything real about pornography. They tell audiences of feminists that law isn't the answer, that law can do nothing, and that women should not go to the male state. These women spend their lives and make their livings (substantial for women) going to the male state. These women take other sex-discrimination issues to the male state. These feminists have clients who must think the law is some of the answer. These feminists who appear on behalf of their clients in court must have empirical proof that law can do something. They win sometimes. It is not just that they oppose a specific legal remedy-for instance, the Ordinance. It is that they say as political truth that law is useless and make women feel like fools for doing something as ridiculous as contemplating "going to the male state." Either these women lie to their clients or they lie to their audiences. If they are lawyers and they practice sex-discrimination law and they go into court, how dare they tell other feminists it is silly to do any of the above? They have used these broad and basically indefensible arguments to undercut support for the Ordinance in particular, but they do not have the courage to say that (1) they use male law, (2) they use sex-discrimination law, (3) they make money practicing law in the male courts, (4) law is essential to social change, which is partly why they practice it; but they do not believe that women hurt by pornography should have legal remedies. Instead they breeze through debates speaking as lawyers making anarchist arguments and speaking as female functionaries of the male courts making separatist arguments. What they say and what they do never meet on the plane of reality. They are especially dishonorable in the double standard they apply to pornography because they are specially qualified to help women who have been hurt by it.
All of these various applications of a double standard to pornography happen sometimes, not all the time. Small numbers of people, their voices and arguments enhanced by the purposeful support of the pornographers, manipulate everyone's sense of reality or sense of justice.
Most women hate pornography; all pornography hates women; and the masses of feminists here and in other countries are not confounded by these strategic uses of the double standard in defense of pornography. We note when a double standard is used and try to understand how it works politically. The acceptance of a double standard for pornography is particularly painful when it happens within the scope of the women's movement. But the real political damage is done when a double-standard tactic is used by those who have real power: media, politicians, lawyers, publishers.
A: There have been many angry splits in the women's movement over the years. The arguments and antagonisms have been aired, often in what seems like perpetuity, in the feminist press. What is different about pornography is that the pornographers have used the so-called feminists who defend pornography to defend it in mainstream forums and in mainstream media. Feminists who oppose pornography are under constant attack from the pornographers, who have their own magazines, of course, and also tremendous influence with newspapers, other periodicals, and radio and television producers. Women who defend pornography are picked up by the pornographers and spotlighted. Often, they find that their careers, including academic careers, are advanced. They suddenly have available to them many public forums in which to express propornography politics usefully (for the pornographers) disguised as a mutation of feminism. Some of them take the vast sums of money the pornographers offer and publish attacks on feminists fighting pornography in the pornography itself. They attack feminists opposing pornography for the pornographers in forums opened up to them by the pornographers. They have allowed themselves to become the chicks-up-front through choices they have made.
There are hundreds of thousands of us, only a tiny number of them. But the tiny number of them tend to be privileged and well-placed: lawyers, academics, journalists. The hundreds of thousands of us are women in all walks of life, but not particularly well-placed. We tend to be poorer. Some of us have been prostitutes or in pornography or have suffered some other form of egregious sexual violation.
We wish that they would stop, of course. One reason is that the pornographers get so much political mileage out of them. But another reason is that we feel ashamed for them. They dishonor women.
The so-called feminist split on pornography would have the quality of a tempest in a teapot if not for the media exposure choreographed by the pornographers. We fight the pornographers. Propornography women, calling themselves "feminists," fight us. In and of itself, this is suspect as a practice of feminism.
Since 1968, feminists have been fighting the way the male world objectifies women and turns women into sexual commodities. Since 1970, we have been fighting pornography. There is no viable propornography feminism. Our legitimate differences center on how to fight pornography. Without the active interference of the pornographers, we would have been able to resolve these differences-or we might have agreed to let a thousand flowers bloom. Because of the complicity of the propornography women with the pornographers, feminism itself stands in danger of being irrevocably compromised and the rights of women being hurt by pornography taking second place to public spectacles of what appears to be internecine conflict. The pornographers love it.
A: The ACLU has been very active in defending the pornographers in the media. The ACLU has been very active in defending pornography as a genre of expression that must have absolute constitutional protection: this they have done in the courts.
The ACLU has taken money for a long time from the pornographers. Some money has been raised by showing pornography. The ACLU's economic ties with the pornographers take many different forms, ranging from taking money from the Playboy Foundation to being housed for a nominal rent ($1 per year) in a building owned by pornographers. Sometimes lawyers represent the ACLU in public debate and as individuals work for pornographers in private. Their personal incomes, then, are largely dependent on being retained by the pornographers. In public they are spokesmen for high and mighty principles; in private, they do whatever the pornographers need done. For instance, one such lawyer represented the ACLU in many debates with feminists on pornography. He talked about the importance of free speech with serious elegance and would brook no exceptions to what must be protected because, he said repeatedly, if any exceptions were made, "feminist and gay" speech would suffer. Then, as the private lawyer for a pornographer, he sued Women Against Pornography for libel because on television a member denounced the pornographer for publishing cartoons that pornographized children. This is one way the ACLU helps pornographers wage war on feminists: high-toned in public; political destruction in private by use of money, power, and ACLU lawyers. The ACLU itself also has a record of defending child pornography by opposing any laws against it as constitutionally prohibited incursions on free speech.
The ACLU has also provided money and office space for FACT, a group that calls itself feminist, opposes the Ordinance, and defends pornography as a significant expression of free sexuality. One ACLU staff person was instrumental in founding FACT and often represents FACT in public while continuing to rise on the ACLU staff. Perhaps the most telling detail, a picture to hold in your mind, is this one: ACLU men and FACT women sat with representatives of Penthouse at a meeting of the Attorney General's Commission on Pornography in New York City in 1986. All three factions together heckled a feminist speaker whose subject was the sexual abuse of women.
The ACLU's stated commitment is to protect the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, not pornography as such, though it's hard to tell sometimes. Without a commitment to real equality of the same magnitude as its commitment to those first ten amendments, the ACLU defends power, not rights. No matter how notorious the exploitation, as for instance in child pornography, the ACLU ends up substantively defending those who exploit the powerless. The ACLU demands a literal reading of those first ten amendments, especially the First Amendment, especially its speech provision. This is an exceptionally conservative position both philosophically and politically and it has a conservative political outcome: it keeps already established patterns of inequality intact.
The ACLU has refused to consider the role of sexual abuse in keeping women silent, or how poverty keeps women, Blacks and other minorities from having access to the means of communication. The ACLU refuses to accept responsibility for the fact that in the United States speech has to be paid for in money. The ACLU defends the power of corporations who own and control the means of speech against the aspirations of dissidents who have been excluded from the circle of protected speech by sex or race.
We also frankly abhor the ACLU's defenses of Klan and Nazi groups. The ACLU has a long history of protecting the most virulent racism. In protecting pornography, this purposeful policy continues. Pornography sexualizes racist hatred. It uses racially motivated violation, torture, and murder as sex acts that lead to orgasm. We believe that racist pornography is one source of the violence against Blacks and other minorities that is ongoing in this society. We believe that it is a dynamic source of racist violence.
The pornographers rank with Nazis and Klansmen in promoting hatred and violence. Their targets are always sex-based and sometimes race-based. Like the Nazis and the Klansmen, they commit the acts of violence they promote. They conduct a war against women that spreads terror.
We have asked the ACLU repeatedly over many years to protect the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights by taking the cases of powerless or disenfranchised people, not exploiters, abusers, or purveyors of genocide. The ACLU has remained indifferent to this idea.
A: In some places, under obscenity laws, graphic sexually explicit materials presenting homosexual sex acts are made illegal per se. The Ordinance does not do this. The Ordinance requires proof of actual harm before any materials can be found illegal. The harm cannot be a moral one-say, that someone is offended by the materials or believes they are not proper family entertainment or finds that they violate their religious beliefs. The harm proven must be a harm of coercion, assault, defamation, or trafficking in sex-based subordination. The fact that the participants in the sex acts shown are of the same sex is not itself a form of sex-based subordination. Only materials that can be proven harmful can be reached, and only by their victims, not by the government. The particular question of lesbian and gay materials under the Ordinance then becomes: if any lesbian or gay material can be proven to do harm to direct victims, is there a good reason that it ought to be exempt under the Ordinance simply because the materials show gay or lesbian sex?
All pornography, from Playboy to "Snuff," is part of somebody's sexuality, their authentic sexuality as they understand it. Their pornography is a sexual experience; it is sex to them. Not surprisingly, these same people want to be reassured that their favorite pornography is exempt from the Ordinance. For example, when men say, You can't mean Playboy! they are saying, I use it, I enjoy it, I have a right to it, you are not going to take it away from me, I don't care whom it hurts. This simply means, because I like it, nobody should be able to do anything about it. It is special pleading pure and simple. There is necessarily someone who feels this way about every part of the Ordinance's definition of pornography.
The broader question the Ordinance poses, then, is, Does anyone have a right to materials that are produced through coercion, that will be forced on others, that are the cause of assaults, that defame individuals, and that are integral to the second-class status of half the population? Is anyone's sexuality-however conventional or unconventional, however sincere-more important than the lives that must be, will be, ground up and spit out in little pieces in the making and use of the pornography so that the consumer's sexuality can be provided with what it needs, wants, or enjoys? Is the sexuality of the pedophile more important than the freedom from sexual exploitation of the child? Is the sexuality of the woman hater more important than the freedom from sexual slavery of the woman coerced to model for sadomasochistic pornography? for forced fellatio? Is the sexuality of the nice but lonely guy more important than the unequal life chances of all the women whose lives are endangered, made hollow, reduced a little or reduced a lot, because what he wants he gets? Is some gay men's access to pictures of subordinating gay sex more important than the right of men or boys not to be raped or violated so that pictures can be made of them, or the desire of other gay men to shape a community free of eroticized self-hatred? The point of considering all these questions at once is this: if harm is done, and it is based on gender, neither the particular sex acts performed nor the gender of those who get hurt should determine whether their civil rights are protected or not.
Because the particular acts do not change the damage done, and because harm is still harm when done by women to women and by men to men, there is no special exemption in the Ordinance for gay and lesbian materials. We are frankly mystified as well as anguished that there are lesbians who identify with and defend the pornographers' woman-hating so-called lesbian sexuality. All lesbians have necessarily suffered from the pornographers' definition of lesbian that is so central to the violence, hatred, contempt, and discrimination directed against lesbians in society. All lesbians in societies saturated with pornography must live with the fact that the pornographers have made lesbianism into a pornographic spectacle in the eyes of men.
The Ordinance does not direct itself specifically against same-sex materials as obscenity law has (with very little effect in the United States). As a matter of fact, it may be difficult to persuade courts to apply the Ordinance to same-sex materials for the same reason that sex-discrimination law has been so useless to advancing the civil rights of gay men and lesbians: sex-discrimination law, of which the Ordinance is a part, has been largely obsessed with what it calls "the gender difference" as defining its concerns. This implicit heterosexual bias to its definition of gender means that it has been difficult for courts to see sex discrimination in a same-sex context. If the attempt to apply the Ordinance to harmful gay and lesbian pornography succeeds, it would provide a precedent that could be used to apply sex-discrimination prohibitions to other civil-rights violations of gay men and lesbians. It would become part of a sexual politics and a civil-rights law that connects a feminist critique of male supremacy with a politics of gay and lesbian liberation.